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Today I received an email from an employer, following my application for a job last week.  There was something that struck me as odd (okay, actually, horribly wrong) about the email.  Thought I'd see what others would do in a similar situation.

To get the full setting, you should know that I don't currently have work.  I'm trained as an architect and have been working on my masters during the school year here in New Zealand.  During the term I make money as a TA (or what we call tutor here), but our term ended at the end of November, and we don't have many offerings over the summer break.  I'm in a position of either trying to find permanent full time work and putting my studies into a part time basis, or finding temporary work until February when school starts back up and I have teaching assignments again.  Money is more than extremely tight.  I have none at the moment.  In fact I just got my power turned back on after it was turned off today.  Thankfully my mother helped me out - very embarrassing at this point in my life.  So, I need work.  Important to keep in mind in this dilemma.

So last week when I saw a new job posting for a position at my level I was very excited to apply.  Not only is it my level, but it's for one of the most prestigious architecture firms in the country, one which gets published internationally and can add a lot to one's work experience.  

Today I received an email saying the following:

"We are preparing a long list of applicants for the position advertised and wondered if you could answer a few questions.

  1.  Are you NZ registered?
  1.  What is your post grad experience?  
  1.  What is your Archicad 14 experience?
  1.  What is your Revit/Autodesk experience?
  1.  What salary range are you expecting?
  1.  What University did you graduate from?
  1.  What is your age?"

Let's look at that list again.

  1.  Professional registration status - totally relevant
  1.  Work Experience - yep totally relevant
  1.  Experience with a particular computer program - yep relevant
  1.  Another computer program - again relevant
  1.  Salary range - understandable
  1.  University - relevant.
  1.  WTF?!

I have lived here for 5 years, but I have to admit I'm not always 100% of what the laws are regarding particular issues.  I have seen people put their age on their CV, but coming from the US this was the biggest red flag I've ever seen.  I first texted a friend of mine who is an HR manager just to find out what the law is in New Zealand, and after a while didn't hear back, so called our Labour Department and confirmed that age is protected from discrimination under our Human Rights Act, and that asking a candidates age is illegal, but that work culture has not quite caught up to where the US is.  Shortly there after I received a text back from my friend saying "that is most certainly illegal!"

So I have confirmation of an illegal question being asked in a pre-interview screening questionnaire.  I responded back with answers to all of the rest of the questions and on the age question stating "Consistent with someone with 12 years of professional experience.  I'm not trying to be cagey, but I've always been informed this was a question that should be avoided due to possibility of discrimination."  

That response was the more moderate response from what I really wanted to write, which was a reprimand at asking an illegal question.  Most architecture firms are small (this one is less than 20 people) and so their business practices tend to be less than professional - that's not to excuse the practice, but more that the person may not be aware of the problem - partly because NZ culture tends to be a very go along to get along type of place.  Confrontation, which is valued in American culture, is not an inherent cultural trait, so honest mistakes can be made.  At the same time there are those who use this flexibility to get away with more than they should.

So the question is, what would you have done?  What would you do now?

Originally posted to dc 20005 on Tue Nov 30, 2010 at 08:51 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  I'm also in NZ. Try this resource: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Meteor Blades, dc 20005

      There is a useful webpage at the Human Rights Commission: Job Application questions.

      On that page there is a link to a PDF document: Getting a job: An A-Z for employers and employees. It has some good advice on what questions can be reasonable and what may risk breaching the Human Rights Act.

      That document makes it fairly clear that a potential employer should not ask about your age, with a few reasonable exceptions that almost certainly don't apply in this case.

      The only reason I'm aware of the existence of this resource, is I went searching online for such a guide just last night! I've been in the same job for a few years and am not looking for anything myself, but my wife is applying for lots of reception-type positions and was surprised to see, on a lengthy application form for a job at a law firm of all places(!), a question asking how many sick days she had taken in the past 12 months of employment.

      Such a question seems borderline, most likely not legal, to me but I am not a lawyer and she didn't really mind answering it without making a big deal about it. I probably would have answered with the addition "... but I'm really not sure it's legal to ask that."

  •  Is it on a form that you can just delete or put (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    revsue, bablhous

    NA.  Don't confront it, ignore it and fill out the other requests as robustly as you can.

    "New TSA slogan: can't see London, can't see France, unless we see your underpants."

    by lakehillsliberal on Tue Nov 30, 2010 at 09:02:11 PM PST

  •  It's always a thorny issue around age, health and (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dc 20005, revsue, Mother Shipper

    other criteria that are used to illegally discriminate.  I like the "commensurate with 12 years of experience" approach but I would have added that I would be glad to provide specific information when I had received a job offer.  There a willingness to comply, but at the appropriate time attitude.  Confrontation usually feels good and ensures you won't get hired.  Good luck!

    "May God bless you with an understanding greater than what you're working with now."

    by Poli Sci Junkie on Tue Nov 30, 2010 at 09:10:43 PM PST

  •  I Went Into Weaving Dried Grass at Half My (0+ / 0-)

    professional income, for life.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Nov 30, 2010 at 09:13:41 PM PST

  •  I would answer the question. (0+ / 0-)

    Anything else gives them a reason to wonder.  I would be glad that they are apparently interested enough to inquire.

    Presumably, they will look at you before they hire you and get a pretty good idea of your age anyway.  It's also possible that there is a reason that the question of age is relevant in this case.

    It's surprising that some of the questions you listed are not covered by their application and/or your CV.  

  •  If age is an issue - you won't run from it. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mother Shipper

    If they have a particular age range in mind, then they can just discriminate at the interview, and never say a word. Since you will never have access to the other candidates' cv's, you can never tell.

    On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to figure out what the hiring company's age target is.

    For example - some companies build their image (marlet positioning) on being young and trendy, others on gravitas. Some companies belive in hiring for the long haul (many fortune 500 companies work this way, while other companies want immediate payback (experience counts)

    Other issues that employers will consider (perhaps more in a European context) if you have to lay off someone who is close to retirement, it may not cost as much as a thirty year old. Similarly, what is behind the hiring requirement - a one off project, or a long term growth curve?

    Interesting little fact, Middle Eastern countries value age/experience much more than US/European countries. A senior management job in the Mid east before 45 or 50 is highly unlikely - In the West you are already over the hill.

    "What has happened down here is the wind have changed. Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain"

    by senilebiker on Wed Dec 01, 2010 at 02:57:58 AM PST

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